Sunday evening Laura and I went to see jazz trio The Bad Plus play at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. First of all, that theater on Lincoln Avenue is a great place to see a showcomforable, intimate, and acoustically welcoming (though it would be even better if people weren't coming in late all the time and if the ushers would keep their voices down). Second, I knew I liked these guys on wax, but holy shit they're great live.
The Bad Plus are masters of intricate time signatures, with an interplay that seems (clich´ though it is to say) telepathic. Ethan Iverson on piano hardly breaks a sweat, indeed hardly moves, as his two hands blur off in opposite directions performing contrary tasks and pounding out dangerous decibels, only to jump up from his seat just when you think he's too cool for school. Reed Anderson anchors things in the middle with a fat, woody bass sound that gives the music a fulcrum even as it hares off in unexpected directions. But the real show is drummer David King, who looks improbably awkward holding a pair of sticks but still manages to emulate the world's craziest clock mechanism, holding the beat in his teeth while it seems to explode with a flurry of jabs and kicks in every impossible directions, maybe even at right angles to spacetime itself. Laura said, "I've never understood before this how drums could be a voice of their own."
The band was excruciatingly tight, nowhere moreso than on their cover of the Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny freakout "Song X," with its nervewracking periods of long silence. The originals were idiosyncratic and strongand it was nice to be able to match each of the three players with his compositions in personand the rock covers, including "Life on Mars?" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," turned the source material inside out to expose the pulsing life inside to the light. (Was that sweat they wiped off their faces, or was it blood?) One of two enthusiastically received encore numbers was Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." You could have heard a pin drop as the players took their hands off their instruments and sang the chorus in sweetly hushed three-part harmony. A startlement on top of a surprise wrapped in citrus rind.
The Bad Plus are justly famed for their cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and while I'm sure many in the audience were hoping to hear it, my only mild disappointment was that they didn't play their version of "Tom Sawyer," from their new album Prog. But maybe that's for the best. Having heard Rush play it two weeks earlier, and with the harmonic disturbances still lingering in the ether, The Bad Plus adding their take might have set up sympathetic vibrations of awesome that would have melted Chicago to a plain of bratwurst-colored glass. We should simply give thanks for the miracles we did witness, and lived to tell.
Jazz shakuhachi? That's what we heard tonight at the Shinjuku Pit Inn, one of Tokyo's legendary jazz clubs, and Doi Keisuke's playing was awe-inspiring. But the real revelation of the evening, to us anyway, was Akiko Grace, whose piano trio anchored the evening's set. Incredibly supple playing, every note clear as a jeweler's hammer tap, but with enough power behind it to blow the audience through the back of the club. After the set, I think Laura was a little taken aback to return from the women's room and find me chatting with Ms. Grace herself. The pianist had signed a CD for me, and we had moved on to talking about New York and science fiction. I think I have a little crush. Laura poked merciless fun at me on the ride back to Roppongi and our hotel.
Much more to post about Japan, and a lot more pictures too, but it will wait until we're back home. Our flight leaves first thing tomorrow morning, and we arrive in Chicago two hours earlier than we leave Tokyo.
Bill the Piano Mover was quick and efficient, but it was still a sad morning:
Treat her well, Zach!